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One buried, more jailed after Kurd celebration in Syria

News of the killing by security forces surfaces, underscoring worsening conditions for the minority.

March 30, 2010|By Borzou Daragahi

Reporting from Beirut — Mohammad Haider's family buried him quietly, without a funeral, as they had been instructed by Syrian authorities.

The Syrian Kurd's body was returned March 23, two days after security forces opened fire on a Kurdish New Year's celebration in northern Syria sponsored by a political party, human-rights groups said. The killing, which surfaced Monday, underscored worsening conditions for the minority.

Syrian Kurds, who live in the north near the border with Turkey, have a long and fraught relationship with the state. In recent years, Syria has begun tightening its suppression of Kurdish identity.

Kurdish language, customs and even traditional folk dances have been increasingly discouraged or banned. Among these cultural rites is Nowruz, the ancient New Year's celebration observed by Iranians, Kurds and other groups in the region.

In recent years, Nowruz has become a trigger for violence between Kurdish activists and Syrian security forces, leading to a number of deaths and increased scrutiny of the Kurdish community.

According to Human Rights Watch, Syrian forces this year demanded that the event's organizers take down Kurdish flags and pictures of Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish political leader imprisoned in Turkey. The organizers refused, and some began throwing stones at the security forces, who responded by firing into the crowd, killing at least one person and wounding others.

A full list of names of those jailed has not been released. Human Rights Watch's Nadim Houry, based in Lebanon, said he could confirm that at least seven people were still in jail, including minors.

"This is not an active armed rebellion, this is people putting up posters and showing the Kurdish flag," said Houry, who told The Times that Human Rights Watch relies on a network of Kurdish activists and lawyers for their information. "These basic things are getting people thrown in jail."

daragahi@latimes.com

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